©1997 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris

The prostitute Rahab, rendered by the artist Marc Chagall (1887–1985), saved the two Israelites Joshua had sent to spy on Canaan. Rahab, whose name means “to make wide,” hid them on her roof, misled their pursuers and then lowered them to safety outside the wall of Jericho after the city gate had been shut. In return she and everyone within her house were the only ones spared when the city fell to the Israelites. Her name, one of several non-Israelite ones in the Book of Joshua, contains a West Semitic root that praises a god for opening a woman’s womb—a root found in many ancient Near Eastern names. Unfortunately, it, like the name Eve, which means “to live,” appears over too long a time span to help date the section of the Bible in which it is found. Names like Methuselah, which can be used to suggest a date for the early chapters of Genesis, are more helpful because they contain elements used only for a limited time.